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John Calvin puts forward a very simple reason why love is the greatest gift: “Because faith and hope are our own: love is diffused among others.” In other words, faith and hope benefit the possessor, but love always benefits another. In John 13:34–35 Jesus says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Love always requires an “other” as an object; love cannot remain within itself, and that is part of what makes love the greatest gift.
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America’s Hidden Mission Field: Why We Need Rural Churches

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Some rural churches are struggling, but many still have a lot left to give.

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Most Christians in the United States probably wouldn’t think to send church planters to Loving County, Texas.

But according to the 2010 U.S. Congregations and Membership Study, almost nobody goes to church there. Only six of the county’s 82 residents had ties to a local congregation, according to the study, which collected data about the number of churches and regular attenders from religious groups in every county in the U.S.

Many of the least churched regions were in rural America—where about 14 percent of the U.S. population lives, according to Pew Research. Esmeralda County in Nevada, for example, had only one church with 23 people—in a county of more than 700 people.

Counties in Colorado, North Dakota, Vermont, Maine, and Nebraska are also among the least churched in the country.

And perhaps more surprisingly, other Bible Belt counties join Loving as being among the least churched places in the U.S.—like Mississippi’s Issaquena County, Virginia’s Dickerson County, and several counties in Kentucky.

Grant Hasty, pastor of Crossroads Community Baptist Church in Stearns—located in McCreary County, Kentucky—helped plant the church a decade ago. The core congregation is only about 60 people, but they make a big impact in a county where only 1 in 5 residents are connected with a church.

They run a restaurant that serves hundreds of free meals every week, mobilize summer volunteers to make local home repairs, organize a laundry ministry, and they’ve just started a tiny homes community for people recovering from drug addiction.

Hasty says they also hope to start several new local churches. “A big church won’t work in our area,” he says. “A lot of people ...

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